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Monika Sengul-Jones
Monika Sengul-Jones of Seattle. (Monika Sengul-Jones Photo)

Monika Sengul-Jones is, more or less, she says, “a professional thinker.”

With a background in social theory and a focus on gender and technology, Sengul-Jones said she is concerned with “questions of access and representation” and “how that gets tangled up in objects — mostly digital, but not always.”

This year she joined the Seattle office of the Online Computer Library Center as the Wikipedian-in-Residence, part of the nonprofit’s Wikipedia + Libraries: Better Together project, aimed at strengthening the ties between U.S. public libraries and the free online encyclopedia.

Sengul-Jones is also GeekWire’s newest Geek of the Week.

“I care about the daily lives of people and how they make sense of their worlds,” Sengul-Jones said. “This informs my approach to gender and technology. More generally, I like to read, think, and to make things — be they projects or metaphorical bridges or new arrangements.”

In addition to her work with OCLC, Sengul-Jones is finishing her doctorate in Communication at UC San Diego.

Learn more about this week’s Geek of the Week, Monika Sengul-Jones:

What do you do, and why do you do it? “I joined OCLC’s research division [in Seattle] last March as the Wikipedian-in-Residence after devoting a few years to critical outreach and Wikipedia editing. Now I get to geek out over the social, historical, and technical process of collecting ideas into a networked wiki-encyclopedia to raise the profiles of libraries and Wikipedia and their shared visions and missions. It’s awesome: I love encyclopedias, I love bringing the people behind technologies together, and I love libraries. I get to dovetail my intellectual and collaborative work with what the team at WebJunction does best, which is instructional design for public library staff. It’s a dream job — and so relevant to the current needs of our social milieu.”

What’s the single most important thing people should know about your field? “Information literacy is not a new issue for libraries, Wikipedians, or academics. What is unique about the project I’m doing now is bridge-building between these communities. On one hand, public libraries house incredible, diverse and rich collections. They also put on excellent programming. But for-profit search engines are so easy to use. Getting information has never appeared to be so easy. And many of us are going to search engines or social media first, and not to libraries — which provide free access to paywalled articles, books, and put on educational programming. It’s the case for me, if I want information on the fly about my child’s medical condition, for instance, I’ll do a quick search and often end up on Wikipedia. It’s the sixth most accessed website globally. Social research tells me I’m not alone. More than half of doctors’ — medical doctors — source of health care information on the job is Wikipedia. (I’ll let that sink in for a minute.)

“Meanwhile, the volunteers who have built Wikipedia have developed a tremendous social-technical information system to verify what’s published online. But there’s room to improve the participation model. Let’s be honest, not everyone has the capacity to volunteer to write an encyclopedia for free, for fun. The sizable gender gap amongst regular editors has impacted the content, and systemic bias more generally. So in terms of information literacy we’ve got clear opportunity to build a bridge between the public libraries as epicenters of authoritative and verifiable information, and where people are going to get information, which is the internet. These come together with the project I’m working on.”

Where do you find your inspiration? “Fiction, art, conversations with friends and colleagues. My two children, partner, and family also inspire me — they are all goofy. And the library! We take our kids to our local public library at least a couple times a week. So much inspiration there.”

What’s the one piece of technology you couldn’t live without, and why? “Phone. But I also want to make a pitch for bicycles. I’m so tired of traffic, cars (and driverless cars hyped as a solution to mass traffic). I could live without it but I don’t want to. I bicycle to work as much as possible.”

Monika Sengul-Jones
Monika Sengul-Jones at her desk — and probably on Wikipedia. (Steph Harmon Photo)

What’s your workspace like, and why does it work for you? “Even though I now have a beautiful desk at OCLC (where I get to sit among smart, respectful, engaged people — it’s amazing!) I believe my workplace has always been a state of mind. I have had to strategize ways to focus no matter the circumstance. Earlier this year, I spent a few months working whenever my new baby would sleep — which meant I would be pulling out my laptop to work at whatever spot I happened to be in when he fell asleep. (I called this technique the #naptimehustle.) It looks pretty on Instagram, see the photos, but honestly working with children underfoot is aspirational at best. Now, thanks to part-time daycare and my parents — special shout out to my mom! — both my partner and I can go to work with a peace of mind. My go-to configuration is a laptop, phone with a hotspot, notebook, citation manager (I use Zotero), and a synchronized calendar.”

Monika Sengul-Jones
Bike to work! Monika Sengul-Jones wishes there were fewer cars on the road.

Your best tip or trick for managing everyday work and life. (Help us out, we need it.): “
I have a couple of life-work maxims: Have a plan and be open to change; set the coffee the night before and wake up early; leave things better than you found them; don’t wait for someone to give you permission; listen, be kind, be bold, be OK with ambiguity.”

Mac, Windows or Linux? “I’ve got Mac and Windows. I toggle.”

Kirk, Picard, or Janeway? “Will I lose my geek card if I don’t answer this? Also: I really liked Kara Starbuck in first few seasons of the ‘Battlestar Gallactica’ remake. I’m watching Hulu’s ‘Handmaid’s Tale’ now and digging it.”

Transporter, Time Machine or Cloak of Invisibility? “Cloak of invisibility! We live in a moment of near compulsory visibility. Surveillance and tracking is everywhere, and tricky to navigate because visibility is presumed to keep you fun, safe but it can be used against you. People shamelessly assume that everything we do should be recorded, posted, shared. Sometimes I wonder if we’ve slipped into a moment where there’s a poverty of social concern for — not just copyright or even an individual’s permission — but the dignity in an unremarkable life. Moreover — and I say this acknowledging my experience of the world as a white woman — compulsory visibility can be a trap when you are brown or black. The cultural associations of our historically-specific, embodied differences overdetermine the meaning of our lived visibility. You just can’t win, especially if you are a black man walking down the street, stereotypes overlay one’s self-determination. Cloak of Invisibility could sound like anti-transparency, but pure transparency is a myth. The meaning of our visibilities are social fraught. I want the beauty of being the wallflower.”

If someone gave me $1 million to launch a startup, I would … “Say, ‘Wow! Not what I expected.'”

I once waited in line for … “[To] have my book signed by Kazuo Ishiguro after his talk at the Seattle Public Library.”

Your role models (And why?): “There are many inspirational women, past and present, who model bravery and embrace the complexities in life. I admire them. Professionally, I’ve had amazing academic and career mentors who are my role models.”

Greatest game in history: “I recently enjoyed Cards Against Humanity (!!)”

Best gadget ever: “Is a programmable coffee machine a gadget? Coffee … Aeropress is a runner up gadget.”

First computer: 

”My dad had some sort of PS with DOS. I learned how to get it started and run PaintShop on it! This must have been early 1990s. I have fond memories of creating cards and booklets.”

Current phone: “iPhone 6.”

Favorite app: “The ones that don’t crash! I use my social media apps a lot. The Wikipedia app has a location function that’s fun to play with.”

Favorite cause: “I began to edit Wikipedia because I was concerned about systemic bias and the effects of the dearth of women and minority editors on the encyclopedia. Whose voices are heard? There’s I think an awareness (among folks who identify as geeks in particular) of the lack of women and minorities in STEM fields. However many of the go-to solutions always seem to push the burden of solving the bias on the people who are excluded, rather than changing the fields or systems themselves. This was how I felt about the issue of participation and representation on Wikipedia. Demographics have undoubtedly affected content, which is missing voices and perspectives. So rather than just trying to get more people to join, what kinds of changes can be made at a process level? How can you begin to change the culture, and representation online, using offline techniques like reframing, education and awareness? This is what I’m working on.”

Most important technology of 2016: “The car-seat that easily clips in and out of the car and then into the stroller. Smart technology when the baby is sleeping! Also the FCC decision to uphold the 2015 net neutrality ruling, which maintains that broadband access is a public utility and not a luxury.”

Most important technology of 2018: “Wikipedia and OCLC launched an ISBN citation generator this last week. This tool uses ISBN identifiers to automatically generate citations by importing metadata from the library cataloging system WorldCat. Including a citation on Wikipedia wasn’t always easy. Now, it’s easier than ever to insert a reliable reference. More importantly, the tool makes books that are freely available at public libraries more visible online — raising the profile of public libraries online is overdue.”

Final words of advice for your fellow geeks: “Everyone has a little bit of geek in them. What’s awesome is that public libraries — and Wikipedia — are there to scaffold, enrich, and inspire all kinds of geekiness. Get freely inspired : – )”

Websites: MonikaSengul.comWikipedia + Libraries project

Twitter: @monikajones

LinkedIn: Monika Sengul-Jones

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